Charleston Southern roared back from a 15-point firsthalf deficit to defeat Campbell, 81-71, in the opening round of theVisitMyrtleBeach.com Big South Basketball Championships at the HTC Center onWednesday.
A Bucs team that has faced its share of adversity thisseason overcame it to advance to Friday's quarterfinals against South Divisionchampion Coastal Carolina. CSU (13-17) trailed 39-24 with 2:30 remaining in thefirst half and by 11 early in the second, but rallied behind Arlon Harper andWill Saunders.
Harper tallied 20 points to lead the way, while Saunderstallied 13 of his 18 after halftime to spur the Bucs' second half charge.Sheldon Strickland and Matt Kennedy chipped in 14 and 13 respectively, as theseniors delivered clutch baskets throughout the second half. The victory wasCSU's first of the season when trailing at halftime. They had been 0-12 in suchcontests.
Strickland scored five straight points to give the Bucsthe lead for good with 7:35 remaining. He buried a step back three-pointer fromthe right wing to tie the game at 64-64, before pushing CSU in front with apair of free throws. Paul Gombwer provided the exclamation point to the winwith a three-point play late, capping off a 7-point, 13-rebound effort that pacedthe Bucs to a 41-26 advantage on the glass.
Campbell (12-20) built its advantage on the strength ofgaudy three-point shooting. The Fighting Camels connected on 8-of-12 attemptsfrom beyond the arc in the first half, and 10 of their first 14 tries overall.The Bucs responded defensively down the stretch, though, holding Campbellwithout a field goal over the final 6:28.
"I thought it was a tale of two halves and a tale of twodifferent teams," CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh said after the Bucs held Campbellto 35 percent shooting in the second half. "In the second half, you saw anemotionally engaged team, a physically engaged team and most importantly amentally engaged team that made up their mind at halftime that they wanted towin this game."
"I thought we were drastically different in the secondhalf, particularly on the defensive end," Radebaugh continued. "Most of thatwas a great effort by our kids. I'm really happy for our guys and reallyrespect their effort. We're rounding into a good team. It's taken us a while tolearn to play without Saah (Nimley) and we're getting there."
CSU engineered a 9-3 mini-run to end the first half andcut Campbell's halftime lead to 42-33. Campbell still enjoyed a 48-37 advantageat the 17:49 mark, however, thanks to one of Leek Leek's three treys. That'swhen CSU started to make its way back into the game, as Saunders and Kennedydrilled back-to-back threes to bring the Bucs within five. Following two freethrows by Campbell's Darius Leonard, Saunders sailed through another triple tonarrow the deficit to 50-46.
Campbell pushed its edge back to six at 58-52 on a RecoMcCarter drive to the hoop with 11:15 remaining, but Saunders answered with yetanother three 14 seconds later to whittle the deficit back to three. AfterCampbell's Kyre Hamer connected on a corner three of his own to put theFighting Camels on top, 61-55, with 10:14 left, CSU took over the game with a13-3 run.
Harper hit a free throw to start the critical juncture,and Strickland followed with the first of two clutch threes to bring CSU within61-59. Hamer made a free throw to stem some of CSU's momentum, before Saundersstepped off the three-point line and drove the lane for an acrobatic finish intraffic. D.J. Mason powered his way inside for two on Campbell's nextpossession, but Strickland swished through another three to even the tally at64-64. Strickland showcased grit and toughness while playing all 40 minutes,scoring 10 of his 14 points following intermission, adding six rebounds and fourassists.
Strickland knocked down two free throws to give CSU thelead for good, before Kennedy finished off the spurt with a pull-up jumper fromthe baseline. Moyer's trey following those free throws would be Campbell'sfinals basket of the night, as the Bucs frustrated the Fighting Camels with anactive man-to-man defense over the last six minutes.
CSU scored five straight points at the free throw line tograb a 75-69 lead after Campbell had drawn within a point on two free throws.Gombwer capped off the spirited second half showing with 32 seconds left,converting a layup while being fouled and hitting the ensuing free throw for athree-point play to delight the Bucs' contingent of fans.
"We had a sense of urgency," Harper said. "Our backs wereagainst the wall and I think that's when we're at our best. We had to puttogether a couple of stops and if we didn't we're packing our bags and goinghome. Each guy took it personal. We stuck together as a team, competed andfinally ran them off the line from three to get a couple stops."
Charleston Southern, the No. 5 seed in the SouthDivision, now meets No. 1 South seed Coastal Carolina on Friday at 6 p.m. CSUnearly knocked off Coastal this past Saturday in Conway, falling 63-61. TheBucs fought back from a late ten-point deficit to take a one-point lead with 49seconds remaining on a Matt Kennedy three in that contest. CSU beat Coastal,70-58, to open Big South play at the Buc Dome on January 8.
"We have a really good Coastal team on Friday that wehave a tremendous amount of respect for," Radebaugh said. "They'll be ready toplay. I think the gravity of it, the magnitude of it, these guys like the bigstage. We've played some of our best games this season on the biggest stagesand we'll be ready to go Friday and we know Coastal will too. It should be agreat game."